The guitar body wood myth is a persistent one. You have probably heard people argue about how different guitar body woods sound different, and they also seem to know the differences between several wood species. And we are talking about solid body guitars. Something about that just doesn’t sound (pun!) right. Can you really hear the difference? I can’t. I can usually tell if an acoustic guitar has some kind of pine or other evergreen softwood top, vs. hardwoods like mahogany or koa, that are still somewhat common top woods. And notice that I said “usually”. Things only get worse when we listen to recorded sounds.
It’s not the wood
The sound of an electric guitar comes from the voltage/current that’s generated in the magnetic pickups by the vibrating strings. You can see that except the mechanical vibration of the strings, these are all magnetic and electric/electronic processes, so the only thing we can do mechanically is to affect that vibration. Do the different body woods affect the string vibration differently? Probably, because the strings are always in some kind of contact with the guitar body – they are often anchored through it – but the sonic difference is not significant, otherwise you would be able to tell the several species apart just by hearing them. The truth is, even plastic (Dan Armstrong) or masonite (Danelectro) solid body guitars sound indistinguishable from the wooden bodied ones. And yes, there are those fancy carbon fiber ones out there, too.
A hollow sound
What about electric hollowbodies? I think there is a little “something” in their sound, it must be the fact that the top is much more flexible than that of a solidbody guitar, and the bridge is attached to this top, so we can hear that significantly different (lower) resonance even in the electric sound – but it’s still not such a great difference that couldn’t disappear using minimal amount of effects; either during recording or in the effect chain of the mix.